Our seas are suffering from overfishing, exploitation for resources and damage to natural habitats. Marine Protected Areas – parts of the sea where wildlife and habitats are protected – are key to the future health of our seas, their ecosystems and wildlife.

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are places at sea where human activities such as fishing are restricted. They are a tried and tested means of conserving habitats and wildlife at sea and there are many around the world.

MPAs don’t just protect wildlife. They can have an influence beyond their boundaries, as growing wildlife populations spill out into the surrounding (non-protected) sea. There is a well-researched example of this at Lundy in the Bristol Channel where lobsters in a ‘no-take’ zone (protected from fishing) were growing to be larger than those in the surrounding fished area. Eventually the lobsters in the surrounding fished area became larger as they spread out from the area excluded to fishing.

We are calling for an ecologically coherent network of MPAs. If they are in the right place and part of a wider well-managed network of protected areas, MPAs can bring even greater benefits, improving the overall health of the marine environment and helping it recover from past impacts and sustain current pressures – living seas.

To achieve this, MPA networks must protect not just rare and threatened wildlife, but the whole range of ‘typical’ habitats and wildlife found in healthy seas. For us, this includes habitats like our cold water reefs, seagrass meadows, kelp forests, sandy and gravelly areas or muddy sea floors.

Marine Protected Areas is the common term we give to all types of protected area at sea. However, there are a number of types of MPA which make up our network of MPAs across the Irish Sea.

Our Marine Protected Areas

European-wide: European Marine Sites

These are areas at sea protected for their habitats and species under EU legislation (e.g. the wildlife present is important at a European level). These fall into two types, Special Areas for Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs). Visit our European Marine Site page for more information.

Each country may also choose to create protected sites at sea at a national level - find out more about national sites below...

England – Marine Conservation Zones

In England, nationally important habitats and species will be protected through Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs). The UK Government are designating the MCZ network through a phased approach. The first 27 MCZs were put in place at the end of 2013. A 23 MCZs we designated in January 2015 bring the total to 50 MCZs throughout English and non-devolved waters. Originally 127 sites were recommended as MCZs, find out more about MCZs and our campaign to secure more sites to complete the network here.

Scotland – Marine Protected Areas

In July 2014 the Scottish Government announced the designation of 30 new Marine Protected Areas, including the Clyde Sea Sill on the fringes of the Irish Sea. The addition of these news sites means that around 20% of Scottish seas are now, on paper at least, managed specifically for the conservation of nature. The creation of additional MPAs is likely to follow in 2015 to protect important areas for basking sharks, whales, dolphins and seabirds – including a proposed Special Protected Area in the Solway Firth to protect Red-throated diver. Find out more from the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

Northern Ireland – Marine Conservation Zones

Northern Ireland’s long awaited Marine Act passed at the end of 2013, creating Nothern Ireland’s first national Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) in Strangford Lough. Following this, the Department of the Environment (DoE) are consulting on four futher MCZs at Rathlin, Waterfoot Outer Belfast Lough and Carlingford Lough. Find out more about Northern Ireland's coasts and Marine Protected Areas here from Ulster Wildlife and the Northern Ireland Marine Task Force.

Wales – Marine Conservation Zones

National sites in Wales will also be called Marine Conservation Zones. The Welsh Government initially held a consultation into the designation of 10 highly protected MCZs in Welsh waters. However, following a large response to the consultation in which concerns were expressed, the Welsh Government are now giving further consideration to their proposals. Find out more about the work that The Wildlife Trust for South and West Wales and the North Wales Wildlife Trust are doing to secure Marine Protected Areas in Wales. 

Isle of Man – Marine Nature Reserves

As well as five Fisheries Closed or Restricted Areas, designed to promote the recovery of scallop stocks, the Isle of Man has one Marine Nature Reserve. Designated in 2011, the Ramsey Bay and Ballacash Channel Marine Nature Reserve protects important habitats and species in the area. Find out more from the Manx Wildlife Trust.